This Can’t Be Right

November 19, 2013 6:32 am

On Monday morning Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant General Manager Claude Loiselle joined Greg Brady and Andrew Walker on The Fan 590 to discuss the Peter Holland acquisition. During that interview the conversation shifted to 19 year old rookie defenseman Morgan Rielly who has been a healthy scratch for three of the Leafs’ last five games.

We’ve got so much depth on defense which is such an oddity for an NHL season. There are so many defenseman out there we have John-Michael Liles with the [Toronto] Marlies, T.J Brennan with the Marlies and a whole host of other players that are down there. Morgan Rielly’s 19 year old and in my view it’s not the worst thing in the world. You know people say he has to play he has to play. Yeah he does. Um, you know when I was in Tampa we had Steven Stamkos and he sat some games and played some games and sat some games. It’s important to practice and be around NHL players from his point of view. Of course you never want a player to sit out for a two or three week period and not play. He’s got to get into the lineup eventually. But you know the way the injury bug is hitting everybody Morgan’s going to get his chance.

The Leafs blueline has visibly struggled this season and it appears as if Loiselle is confusing quantity for quality when it comes to depth. I was a little surprised by what he had to say about the Leafs defense being so deep considering they have been very poor so far this season. However, unlike their awful centre ice situation, the Leafs definitely do have a multitude of capable defenseman in their organization, so Loiselle is not totally wrong in that sense. I just think it could have been said in a different way. I wouldn’t be singing from the rooftops about the defense situation with the way they have played the opening 20 games of 2013-14.

If the Leafs have so much depth on defense though why the need to burn a year of Rielly’s entry level deal? That question becomes even more confusing when you figure the coaching staff feels he cannot play over Mark Fraser. Is a 19 year old Rielly that much better than a Brennan (who has 19 points in 15 games in the AHL this season) or Liles (who is a big part of the cap whether he’s playing or not)? Eventually Rielly will be much better than those two players (he is already better than Fraser), but not right now.

Also, why is Fraser playing over Rielly? It really makes no sense at all. Fraser was a nice story last season, but he is a 6th or 7th defenseman at best for the Leafs. He is not someone that is automatically handed a spot in the lineup upon returning from injury. The injury that Fraser suffered also forced him to wear a brace for the remainder of this season which has hampered his mobility (exacerbating a pre-existing weakness). Take a look at Marcus Foligno (yes, Marcus Foligno not Sidney Crosby) blow by Fraser to score the winning goal Friday night against Buffalo:

Fraser began that clip ahead of Foligno but was unable to keep up and saw the Sabres checking forward completely outrace him to create an odd-man rush. On a side note, you have to love Greg Millen misidentifying Fraser and blaming Dion Phaneuf instead. At no point did Millen correct that mistake. While there are many that may gloss over that error there are also just as many people who swallow what Millen says as gospel and blame the Leafs Captain for that goal.

If Leafs Coach Randy Carlyle doesn’t feel like Rielly can supplant Fraser from the lineup than there is absolutely no reason he should have been kept beyond the nine game mark to open the season. As Loiselle mentioned, the Leafs have plenty of bodies that could have filled that void in the interim. That concept becomes even more apparent when you notice that Rielly has averaged 17:03 a game (6th defenseman minutes). Loiselle and the Leafs boast about depth but don’t feel that those pieces could be their 6th defenseman in case of an injury? The evidence seems to contradict Loiselle’s claims.

Finally, I’m confused by Loiselle’s comment about Stamkos. Stamkos was a healthy scratch only three times in his rookie season (Rielly has already sat 5 of the Leafs’ opening 20 games). Loiselle’s “he sat some, played some and sat some” comment is something he may want to go back to and look at again. In reality, the situations are completely different. The Leafs are a cap team with aspirations (misguided or not) of not only making the playoffs, but winning some rounds. The Lightning in Stamkos’ rookie season were in full rebuild and their goal was to develop their players. Was Loiselle really saying that the Leafs are keeping Rielly around so he can practice with NHL players? Really? Practice?

This article was written by on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 6:32 am. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
  • Noah

    Great article. I’m similarly confused by Fraser’s assumed spot in the lineup.

    I had a conversation with a friend when Fraser was returning from his injury about which of Gardiner and Rielly we think would be sitting. I found it funny that ‘Fraser’ (the correct answer) didn’t seem to be on the table. It’s baffling, until I remember that Carlyle seems to consistently refuse to ice the best possible team he can.

  • WesternDP

    People don’t always tell the truth. Try not to be confounded by the half truths and outright lies.

    My guess is that they are trying to keep Rielly under 40 games, more than that and the year counts towards his arbitration rights and UFA status.

    They will never tell you they are doing something like that. They will give you cliches:

    “It’s important to practice and be around NHL players from his point of view. Of course you never want a player to sit out for a two or three week period and not play. He’s got to get into the lineup eventually.”
    make sense?

    • hope_smoke

      Thanks for clarifying that for me

    • Marc Comeau

      It’s 40 games on the active roster, whether he plays or not. Putting him in the press box doesn’t keep him from getting there any sooner.

  • The Fonze

    Good article but I think one reason that Frasor gets to play is because he is the only physical presence on the blue line besides Phaneuf. Clearly Reilly is a better player, but Reilly’s skill set is duplicated by virtually every other D they have except Gunnerson, who, while defensive is not a physical presence. In my obviously unprofessional opinion, I would sit Ranger before Reilly. I would also look to trade Gardiner and acquire a physical defenseman. (not necessarily in the same deal). I also really think that while Gunnerson is good at what he does, he is not a top pairing Dman and that Phaneuf – while playing excellent despite what uninformed assbags will tell you – will be even better if he had a peer as a partner and not a medicore partner. If the Leafs want to be a contender, they need Phanuef / mystery top pairing Dman Rielly/ Frasor Gunnerson/ Mystery Physical Dman better than Frasor.

    • hope_smoke

      I would not move Gardiner at all. I hear what you’re saying in regards to Fraser v Ranger. Thanks for the comment

      • The Fonze

        I think that Gardiner is potentially a great defenseman, but its unlikely to impossible that he is ever better than Phaneuf or Reilly and I think Franson is only scratching the surface of his potential right now. Gardiner, a couple prospects and a first could get you both Schen brothers and make the Leafs an actual cup contender. I know Luke hasn’t exactly been the best in Philly but he is exactly the kind of defeseman we’re missing currently.

        • hope_smoke

          Gardiner straight up could get you both Schenn brothers. Taking on Luke’s salary is something that would diminish the value of the package on Philly’s part. I thank you for the comment, but I could not disagree more.

          • The Fonze

            Hey man, its cool to disagree, but Gardiner isn’t going to get you Brayden, let alone both.